Bensalem suspends volunteer fire company

Bensalem Township’s volunteer Union Fire Company was suspended Tuesday for the second time in 13 months — the latest chapter in a longstanding clash of personalities and politics.

The fire company suffers from “a total lack of leadership,” township Public Safety Director Fred Harran said after announcing the suspension. “It’s like a baseball team without a pitcher.”

"They’ve been threatening to do this since the last time,” Chief Dave Jerri responded. “But it won’t happen again — I won’t resign,” he said, referring to the ouster of Chief Vince Troisi last summer.

The main point of contention this time, Jerri said, is the company’s $1-million, jet-powered fireboat, bought with a federal Port Security Grant.

“They want us to get rid of the boat — that’s a condition” for reinstatement, he said. “I have no intention of supporting a vote to get rid of the boat.”

The company, which has two other boats, needs the 37-footer for emergencies on the Delaware River, such as fires, capsized boats and body recoveries, he said. There have been about four such calls in the past year, he said.

The boat has been involved in several minor accidents and mishaps and is moored miles away in Tullytown.

Harran said the company acquired a boat “it has no need for. They’re more interested in the boat than fighting fires.”

Union has answered the least number of calls of the township’s six volunteer companies, Harran said. He did not have the totals; Jerri said the company handles about 400 calls a year.

“Their response time is the worst in the township, they can’t get to calls, Harran said. “They have no active recruitment effort, and they continue to have safety issues.”

He declined to provide details, saying he didn’t want to try the case in the press.

The Eddington and Cornwells companies are covering Union’s area along State Road near the Delaware, Harran said.

In announcing the suspension, effective 2 p.m. Tuesday, Harran said that most of Union’s firefighters “are loyal and dedicated individuals, and this unfortunate but necessary action by the township should not negatively reflect on them.”

Conditions for the previous suspension included replacing Troisi, the longtime chief, with Ray Hackman, and the appointment of a board to oversee the company’s operations.

But the company became unhappy with Hackman, replacing him with Jerri, Harran said.

The board recently reported to the township that Union should not operate “until they can fix their house,” Harran said.

The company called a meeting Tuesday night, though Jerri said he wasn’t sure what would come of it.